Monday, August 24, 2015

100 Days to Save the World

Imagination is not a talent of some men but is the health of every man.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

It's a hard time to be hopeful.  ISIS wantonly destroys the sacred elegances of the past, while beheading and raping innocents of the present.  Terrorists and psychotics use easily obtained and operated lethal firearms to massacre innocents in any ordinary place, while political cynics make sure they remain well-armed. Fearful fanatics seem to dominate all politics; racism and other reactionary passions are seemingly ascendant, making trump cards out of what would ordinarily be jokers.  There are alarming examples of destructive fanaticism on what our impoverished dialogue insistently calls the Left as well as the Right. There is a smell of chaos, caught and eagerly exploited by proudly evil and cowardly trolls in cyberspace and beyond.  It seems that where evil, insanity and cynical greed do not reign, debilitating distraction does.

In short, civilization seems to be falling apart at the moment when it is most needed, when it is most urgent to face up to crisis conditions in the larger contexts of all life on Earth.

But there are contending forces also rising to confront these challenges, to try to save the world and its civilizations, although in better form.  There are visions, organizations, heroic individuals, movements, projects; there are designs in the practical, physical world that offer the hope of new energy systems, new economics and so on.   Many of the books I've mentioned here and elsewhere before (like Down to the Wire, Eaarth, The Great Disruption, America The Possible, and a later entry I haven't mentioned, Klein's This Changes Everything)  that delineate near and far future challenges of the climate crisis, also suggest that meeting these challenges could make the world a better place in other ways--healthier, more just and sustainable, in which humanity flourishes in a world made safe for life.

All of that remains the work of generations.  For this moment, the upcoming and urgent task is to get some international agreement that gives the planet a chance by limiting and phasing out greenhouse gases, in the quantities and in in the timeframe that today's best science suggests will give us a fighting chance to save the future.

An excellent article by John Sutter at CNN entitled "100 Days to Save the World" outlines the reasons, the tasks and especially the reasons to hope that this time when nations meet in Paris in November and December, they will meet this challenge.

Much is moving towards this moment.  The encyclical by Pope Francis, endorsed by leaders of other Christian sects,  preceded the recent Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change   which asserts that for Muslims, addressing the climate crisis is a religious duty.  It calls for a future of 100% renewable energy, and specifically for a climate treaty this year.

“To chase after unlimited economic growth in a planet that is finite and already overloaded is not viable," the declaration said.

To underline the factual claim behind this moral imperative, also last week:

We’re not even nine months into 2015, but by Wednesday humans had consumed an entire year’s worth of natural resources since Jan. 1, according to the Global Footprint Network.

Global Overshoot Day is perhaps a too-cute marketing moniker for what is the most ominous fact of all, for this is the kind of deficit spending that really can't go on.  It is of course not the first such day--though it comes almost a week earlier this year than last.  According to GFN: "Earth Overshoot Day is meant as an approximation rather than an exact date. Still, the data shows that humanity’s demand on nature is at an unsustainable level — one year is no longer enough to regenerate humanity’s annual demand on the planet.”

Not only are humans living beyond the means of the planet to sustain that kind of life, even more evidence arrived last week that humanity has become the most destructive predator on the planet, wiping out predator animals also at an unsustainable rate, with consequences all along the food chain--up as well as down.

The climate crisis makes all of this worse, and even in the near term (another study finds) will likely lead to the most political volatile condition: "food shocks," meaning food shortages and price spikes.

So there is plenty of motivation available for leaders from all nations to meaningfully address the climate crisis, which is the bare minimum but could be the change that opens opportunities for much more, as other factors (especially the advancing technologies and falling costs of renewable energy) move in a positive direction.

Within the US, where support for addressing the climate crisis is substantial but below many other rich nations, there are fascinating findings outlined in an earlier CNN post by John D. Sutter.   In the form of a quiz, he reviews these findings: though 97% of the world's working climate scientists affirm the reality of the climate crisis and its greenhouse gases emissions cause,  only 10% of the American public knows that they do, the fact of this stunning unanimity.  Yet 70% say that they trust climate scientists above all to give them the correct information.

The US doesn't score high on the percentage of people that "believe in" the climate crisis, but on the other hand, only 9% are "sure" it doesn't exist.  And 70% support strict emissions regs on power plants.

There is an opportunity for everyone in these stats, Sutter points out: 67% of Americans surveyed say they strongly or somewhat trust family and friends on this issue.  Currently, 74% say they rarely or never talk about climate change.  This is the denialists' second greatest victory (after buying the Republican party and its obstructionists), for clearly people aren't anxious to get into what they fear will be violent arguments.  In 2008 that number was lower, at 60%.

What will reverse that? President Obama will do his part, as Pope Francis and the UN Secretary General visit in September, and the climate crisis is sure to be talked about.

But it will likely take friends and family as well, although it might start with more controversy than calm. Nobody wanted to talk about the Vietnam war or the draft in the 1960s, until their children demanded it by making a lot of noise.  Climate organizations are making their demonstration plans, so there will more noise made in this next 100 days.  To save the world.

Friday, August 21, 2015

El Nino v. The Blob: The Latest

In this year's most important grudge match, El Nino v. the Blob, oddsmakers are swinging behind the big hot baby boy of the Pacific, big time.

The latest NOAA outlook forecasts the biggest El Nino since the first weigh-in way back when.  And for this neck of the woods, they say it means the Blob will fall, and we'll get that rain.  So will the high Sierras:

The northern reaches of bone-dry California will get some drought relief this winter, federal climate experts predicted Thursday — the first time forecasters have suggested that the much-hyped El Niño could send storms to the part of the state where they’re needed most.

Optimism for a drought-dampening winter have grown along with measurements of the strength of El Niño. Although there are no guarantees, in general, moderate El Niños boost the chances of wet winters in Southern California while more robust El Niños improve the odds of soaking storms in the north — where mountain runoff supplies the majority of California’s water supply.

 The Blob is already down, though not yet for the count:

The good news is that the weather conditions in the western Pacific tropics that are thought to have created the menacing mass of high pressure have already changed, said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center, to reporters last week. Halpert says he expects El Niño to assert itself, and the ridge of high pressure to fade away.

The eastern US can expect a milder and wetter winter, which might mean some big snows as well as ice-storms, sleet and rain.

But it's still August, and the fires are still burning, and Humboldt County has declared a health emergency because of the smoke.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Salmon and Trees: Drought Beyond the Cities

Another aspect of the California drought that is getting particular attention on the North Coast as well as further up the Northwest is the effect on salmon.  Combined with other factors, the low flow in rivers and the hot ocean near shore are endangering salmon runs.  Die-offs in Washington state have already happened, and a repeat of the massive die-off in the lower Klamath in 2002 is feared here.

Local tribes are agitating for the release of more water to cool down the rivers and streams where the salmon are now going to spawn.  Humboldt member of Congress Jared Huffman wrote to the Dept. of Interior urging such releases.

Coincidentally, on August 30 HSU is hosting a staged reading of a 2006 play created here that concerns the effects of that 2002 salmon die-off.  Salmon Is Everything is also the title of a book that includes the play's text and essays about the issues and the process of creating the play, particularly the relationship with tribal communities.   It will be the 2015-16 HSU Book of the Year. The play places particular emphasis on the cultural impact of salmon, a connection maintained by indigenous communities for thousands of years.

More broadly, the drought is creating crisis conditions for wildlife throughout California, and if the drought continues a new study warns that things could get really bad:

A new report by the Public Policy Institute of California non-profit think-tank paints that distressing picture of California for the next two years if the state’s driest four years on record stretches further into the future.

Written by water and watershed experts working at the policy center, at the University of California, Davis, and elsewhere, the report urges California to do more now to deal with what researchers project to be the biggest drought crises of 2016 and 2017 — crashing wildlife populations, raging wildfires and more and more poor rural communities running out of water entirely.

So far the emphasis has been on big cities and big agriculture, the report says.  But beyond these obvious economic and population centers, the drought threatens the basic ecological infrastructure, as well as people who live in small places within or closer to our forests and rivers.  And ocean, but that's another (sore) subject.

Forest fires continue, and another 3 firefighters lost their lives in Washington.  A National Geographic article describes how they are changing western forests. Another study finds our northern forests are particularly threatened by the climate crisis.

Meanwhile, the speculation over the super-El Nino continues, but nobody believes that even if it brings substantial rain to the state, that this will compensate for the drought, or even break its back.  Even as El Nino builds in strength, the countervailing "Blob" of warm coastal waters remains, and could offset greatly the expectation of even normal rains up here on the North Coast (and the Northwest generally.)  This could also mean the snows will not return to the high Sierras in sufficient quantity to add significantly to the urban water supplies south.

Quantifying the Obvious

July was the hottest month ever recorded worldwide, and 2015 is extremely likely to be the hottest year.  At least until next year.

A longitudinal study confirms that climate change is making the California drought worse.  Based on historical records, 8% to 27% worse, according to Reuters. The NY Times says 15%-20%.  Whatever.  Worse.  And the next one will be worse still.  And not necessarily because of less rainfall, but faster evaporation from higher temps.  What role if any that climate crisis plays in this period of less rain is apparently still a matter of conjecture.

The study itself gets good reviews, according to the Times:

The paper on the California drought echoes a growing body of research that has cited the effects of human emissions, but scientists not involved in the work described it as more thorough than any previous effort because it analyzed nearly every possible combination of data on temperature, rainfall, wind speed and other factors that could be influencing the severity of the drought. The research, said David B. Lobell, a Stanford University climate scientist, is “probably the best I’ve seen on this question.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

West in Fire (Updated)

Late Monday night, under a thin haze that permitted a few stars to be visible, the smell of burning wood was so pronounced that I took a walk in the silent neighborhood to make sure nothing very near was burning.

Tuesday, which was uniformly an eerie yellow-gray overcast, ash fragments had reappeared on cars in the street.  There was a small local fire, weeds and grasses in the Manilla dunes, but the smoke in our air more likely is from the forest fires to our northeast and south.  Another 1200 acres burned last night in the Mad River Complex of fires, and 900 more acres burned in the Gasquet Complex of fires, among the fires to the northeast.  About 5000 acres were involved in 7 fires in southern Humboldt that are now pretty much contained.

On Wednesday, NASA satellite imagery confirmed our smoky skies.  Other fires contributing are believed to be several complexes in Trinity National Forest and the Nickowitz Wildfire.

People are talking (or so I've heard) about the psychological effects of the fires even here, where the evidence is evident, but the actual fires are fairly far away. This is a place in love with trees, and put that together with the reminder of dangerous changes, there may very well be aimless anxiety, background depression, unspoken grief.

Western forests, as far north as Alaska, are burning this summer.  One in Idaho reveals something called a firenado. 

Enough of the forest gone and one of the pernicious feedback effects, one of the vicious cycles of the climate crisis engages.  Trees breathe and store carbon out of the pollution causing the greenhouse effect.  But the climate crisis that feeds on excessive carbon and promotes drought, makes the trees vulnerable to fire.  The fire destroys the trees, releasing carbon immediately, and their long-term absence means that less carbon is routinely taken out of the air, which means that more carbon stays in the atmosphere to intensify the climate crisis greenhouse effect. Which intensifies drought and lightning storms, which create more fires, which destroy more trees and releases and leaves more carbon. So when the smoke clears, the heat increases.  If the forests can't keep up, it keeps getting worse all by itself.

Other effects on forests of these megafires are described in a National Geographic article.

Even without fire, climate crisis-fueled drought is killing California forests, and even trees in settled areas, due to water restrictions.

It's not a lot of fun saying that out loud.  But silence feeds denial, and while some denial gets you through the day, it may not get you through the night.

...On the following night, Tuesday, the clouded sky glowed red.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Style Point

It's hardly the worst problem in America, but it's indicative: the generally dispiriting way people dress these days, with no sense of occasion or respect for anything (including themselves) and above all, no sense of style.

Well, a sense of style always was rare.  It's possible to have it, even now, and even in casual circumstances.  Our President sticks to the dark suit uniform in the White House, but he chooses--and wears-- his casual clothes with a spiriting sense of style, as now on his current Cape Cod vacation.  

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Coda to 70 Years: The Unacknowledged Monster

Much of my writing this summer was centered on the 70th anniversary of the first--and so far, the last-- atomic bombings of human beings.  In addition to the two essays posted here, I wrote a long piece about the first Godzilla movie and the most recent, which was released last year, on the 60th anniversary of the first.  I caught up to it on DVD in June.  The original Japanese movie was called Gojira, and has essentially never been seen in the US except on DVD, not released until 2004.  That 1954 movie was a direct response to the radiation poisoning of Japanese fishermen from a US hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific.  I wrote on Gojira itself several years ago, and on the two films this summer at Soul of Star Trek.

These were not the first times I'd written on atomic bomb history, or the larger question of bombing of cities.  Several of my previous pieces on these subjects were published in the San Francisco Chronicle, but there were no takers anywhere for the two pieces posted here last week.

By coincidence, I ran across A Zen Life, a video about D.T. Suzuki, renowned for introducing Zen to America and the West in general, beginning before the first World War, gaining traction in the 1950s with the Beat Generation and then in the 1960s. Towards the end of the video were images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with Suzuki's words about the apparent efforts of some humans to eradicate their species and much of life on earth--a theme of course that led both of my posts here, though they were written before I saw this video.

In printed material accompanying the video (borrowed from the library), Suzuki had more words to say about the morality of bombing in general.  Soldiers consent to their participation in violent battle, he said, and they accept that they might be killed.  But bombing of women and children in cities is a morally different act.

This extended my thinking again about the issues raised in these 70th anniversary pieces.  We are reluctant to face nuclear realities (or ecological threats), but it strikes me as remarkable that the morality of bombing is never an issue, never a question.

One of my Chronicle essays was prompted by the well publicized likelihood that the US was going to begin its invasion of Iraq with extensive bombing of Baghdad. My piece introduced the concept of Shock & Awe, which I picked out of a CBS News report.  This was happening as I was reading a new book called A History of Bombing.  It's a fascinating if overlooked book that raises such questions.

My piece went on to say:

There are various strategic arguments for bombing campaigns that dovetail with apparent moral concerns, usually involving shortening a war's duration or substituting for ground assaults, thus saving lives, especially the lives of the side doing the bombing.

When facing the possibility that this war would unleash chemical, biological or nuclear weapons that have been largely absent from warfare for decades due to international taboos of one kind or another, it may seem quixotic to argue that bombing of civilian populations should be regarded as an evil in itself, and beyond the pale for nations that desire any sort of international relations. But it seems morally obtuse that there is a stronger taboo against assassinating a declared enemy's head of a state than against slaughtering babies in their beds. Surely bombing should be a last resort, not the first.

All of this brought me back to Gojira.  When Americans took the monster footage, eliminated much of the Japanese story and especially most references to the Bomb and added Raymond Burr as the American star, the movie that resulted (called Godzilla: King of the Monsters) became a US and international sensation.  Toho, the studio that made Gojira, then made a series of Godzilla and other more or less science fiction movies for an international audience.  Susan Sontag wrote about them in her generative 1950s essay, "The Imagination of Disaster."  Many of these films involved wholesale destruction of a big city--New York, London or especially Tokyo.

Movies are about other movies, and a lot of other things, but Gojira was the most intensively about the Bomb.  Godzilla was a creature awakened and strengthened by Bomb testing in the Pacific, and he came ashore to stomp and destroy and eventually to breathe radioactive fire on Tokyo.  Godzilla was the Bomb, and the battle of conscience that a scientist had whether or not to use against him the immense destruction of a weapon he'd accidentally devised was the crisis of conscience that the atomic scientists should have had.  (Some did, but mostly after the fact.)

But it hit me more forcefully after reading that Suzuki comment that Godzilla's attack on Tokyo was a reenactment of the actual destruction of Tokyo by American bombs, none of them nuclear, but with sheer numbers and incendiary power.  It is visually inescapable, and there is a moment that the script hints at the equivalence--when a young mother huddles in a doorway with her arms around her small children as Godzilla rampages towards them, and she tells her children that they will soon be joining their father.  A lot of fathers were lost in the war.

from Gojira
Because the only word sufficient to characterize humans bombing each other on this scale is monstrous.  And so Godzilla is the monster of bombing.  The bombing of Tokyo and Dresden and of London, and later of Vietnam and Iraq, as well as of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Godzilla, like King Kong, also had the personality that made him lovable, and in later movies he became a kind of hero (as reflected in the otherwise despicable Godzilla of 2014.)  It has been argued that the Japanese moved quickly from mourning to a kind of repression and willed numbness, as reflected in the cuteifcation of their popular culture.  But in the Gojira moment, less than a decade after Hiroshima, the monstrousness of modern warfare was at least metaphorically expressed.

To further tie together the themes of this 70th anniversary, movies about monsters who are resurrected and augmented forces of nature are usually brought to life by some human act.  The Jurassic Park monsters are about scientists playing God with genes, for instance.  The theme of science creating monsters is as old as Dr. Frankenstein.  But these days such movies more clearly attempt to exorcise through entertainment the unacknowledged yet increasingly felt fact that the monsters turn out to be us.

How do we defeat this monster?  The movies tell us this as well: by recognizing the nature, power and effects of the monster.  Then applying courage and ingenuity to defend what the monster would destroy.  Even if we are the monster, we can also be the heroes.

 The monster is vanquished, at least for awhile--driven to the hidden depths.  The sequels suggest we don't learn much--the monster's return always surprises people, who often don't recognize it if it has changed at all.  So the tasks begin again.

People in these movies often deny the monster exists until it is almost too late.  But eventually they see the reality, and they depend on those who saw it earlier and are ready.  Some may panic, but heroes emerge, however humble many of them are.    

Sunday, August 09, 2015

70 Years After Nagasaki, A World of Falling Skies

August 6, 1945 was the most important date in “the history and prehistory of the human race,” wrote author Arthur Koestler, because with the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, humanity for the first time faced the prospect of its own extinction.

The Bomb brought the concept of humanity causing its own extinction into consciousness. Among others, Norman Cousins wrote about it in the 40s, Susan Sontag in the 50s before Koestler emphasized its importance in the late 70s.  But it turns out that before Hiroshima, and before Nagasaki (with its 70th anniversary today) human civilization had been creating the conditions that might yet lead inexorably to its extinction, and has continued to do so, even as we are becoming conscious of it.

Though the nuclear threat is not entirely over, 70 years later there are warnings of extinction with a different cause: human impact on the biosphere. A study released this summer suggested that a cascading mass extinction driven by habitat loss, exploitation and climate change could begin threatening humanity in three generations. Co-author Geraldo Ceballos warned that “if it is allowed to continue, life would take many millions of years to recover, and our species itself would likely disappear early on.”

I was born during the first postwar atomic bomb tests in 1946. As have many others, I’ve lived with the specter of the Bomb all my life, amidst all the contradictory responses: alarm, denial, distracted indifference, inconsolable terror and even apocalyptic glee, and perhaps most of all, helpless numb despair. We see such responses to climate change today.

But there are differences. A nuclear exchange threatens an immediate catastrophic change, from normal life to instant annihilation. Environmentally-caused extinction would likely come at the end of a long process that’s already begun, with increasingly obvious consequences along the way.

Some changes are here and more are coming, because of what has already been set in motion. This presents new challenges, and like the advent of the Bomb, it requires new ways of thinking.

Among the places NPR commentator and author Craig Childs visited for his book Apocalyptic Planet was a research station in Greenland, where climate expert Koni Steffans would brief government officials and others seeking the latest information on global climate change. "What he tells people who visit is not that the sky is falling but that we live in a world of falling skies,” Childs writes, “and it is best not only to know your options but to make moves ensuring the worst does not happen."

In a world of falling skies, humanity will necessarily confront the effects of climate change (droughts, heat, droughts, storms, rising sea levels, food and water shortages, health problems etc.) that will continue for decades because of past actions.

Yet it will also be necessary to simultaneously and relentlessly attack the causes of climate change (principally greenhouse gas pollution) in every way possible to prevent the worst from happening in the far future. Keeping that cause and effect relationship in mind in a worsening time may be difficult but essential. It is the work of generations.

Living under the nuclear sword influenced how several generations viewed life in the present, as well as their attitudes about the future. At our best, we learned to identify and cherish the soul of this moment, while finding meaning in working for a better future.

“People have to have hope,” a conservationist told science writer Elizabeth Kolbert for her book, The Sixth Extinction. “It’s what keeps us going.” In the end, as the nuclear age may have taught us, hope is not just a feeling or attitude. It’s a commitment. It isn’t principally what you have. It’s what you do.

For even though we may have lucked and blundered our way through the nuclear threat so far, there were also 70 years of soul-searching and debate, research and imaginative inquiry, political and institutional action and change brought to bear in order to thwart the demise of the world. That counted for something.

There were people who confronted the world made by those days in Hiroshima and Nagasaki not simply out of fear but with a sense of responsibility. If we’re the species that realizes it may be causing extinction, we must be the species that does its best to prevent it.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

North Coast Week

Saturday was brilliantly clear with wisps of white clouds floating in a deep blue. Strong but warm winds were blowing in from the sea.  The ocean was dark at Little River State Beach.

But the days before were a different story.  On Wednesday I think it was, the setting sun was a suspended red ball with no radiance, and dim enough to look at directly.  That night in the wee hours, the quarter moon was orange.  Thursday was gray but at night the clouds had a light orange cast.  These were effects of the fires burning to our northeast.

Earlier in the week, cars were coated with ash from the sky.  Word went around that the ash contained fire-supressing chemicals and would damage the finish.  Car washes had customers lined up, with one place reporting several hundred cars in one day.

There are still many fires burning, with none even close to half contained.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

70 Years After Hiroshima: Nuclear Threat Is Not Over

“If I were asked to name the most important date in the history and prehistory of the human race,” wrote author Arthur Koestler in the 1978 prologue to his final book, Janus: A Summing Up, “I would answer without hesitation, 6 August 1945.”

Before then, each person lived with the prospect of individual death, he explained. But “since the day when the first atomic bomb outshone the sun over Hiroshima, mankind as a whole has had to live with the prospect of its extinction as a species.”

Seventy years later, the danger of instant eradication in a global nuclear war seems past, and we are becoming more conscious of ecological threats to long-term human survival. But the nuclear threat is not over, nor is it confined to the possibility of isolated terrorist attacks. The threat of human extinction that begins with a nuclear exchange may still exist.

While most attention has focused on the possibility of Iran developing a nuclear weapon in the near future, some 15,700 nuclear bombs are in the hands of 9 other countries right now, including some 5,000 weapons in active deployment.

All 9 countries with nuclear bombs are either expanding their arsenals, building new delivery systems or modernizing old weapons and systems.

Though the U.S. and Russia have reduced the number of weapons from Cold War levels, together they maintain about 1800 missiles carrying thermonuclear bombs on hair-trigger alert, ready to fire within minutes and therefore most susceptible to momentary miscalculation and accident.

Those of us who lived through the Cold War could read and see films about how powerful each one of these bombs can be: vaporizing every living thing for miles, igniting firestorms and spreading radiation for hundreds of miles or more, killing and maiming for years, with documented cases of genetic deformities in the next generation.

These terminal dangers were embedded in popular culture for decades. But as memories of Hiroshima and the Cold War recede, so apparently does awareness of the nature and danger of nuclear weapons.

The US has ten times the number of nuclear weapons that US citizens believe there are, according to polls.  A survey of members of Congress revealed that almost none of them knew how many nuclear weapons are in the US arsenal.  But the US is not the exception--several studies show that knowledge about nuclear weapons today is low.

In popular culture today, nuclear war has been reduced to the bright explosions and apocalyptic fantasies of video games, including the latest version of Fallout Shelter. “Simulate a beautiful nuclear war right in your browser,” says the headline of a recent Popular Mechanics post.

More worrisome are movies and TV dramas that treat nuclear bombs like conventional explosions, only a bit bigger and more colorful. For example, in the 2014 Hollywood remake of Godzilla, a nuclear bomb many times more powerful than the Hiroshima device was detonated on the water apparently within view of the San Francisco shoreline without damage to the city or its people. Not even a wave.

This is an irony worthy of Doctor Strangelove, since the original Japanese Godzilla movie was a response to the radiation dangers of hydrogen bomb tests in 1954, directed by a man who had seen Hiroshima shortly after its atomic destruction.

To misconstrue the true nature and difference of nuclear weapons could lead to horrific mistakes. The Physicians for Social Responsibility calculated that a relatively small nuclear “bunker buster” attack on Iran would result in 3 million deaths within 48 hours, and expose some 35 million to radiation. Radioactive fallout would reach into Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.  Radiation killed almost twice as many people in Hiroshima over the following five years than died on August 6, 1945.

But even without radiation as a factor, research conducted a few years ago found that a limited nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan (for instance) could lead to global famine within a few years, due to ozone layer damage caused by massive urban firestorms. If that study is correct, it’s another reason that a larger nuclear exchange between the U.S. and Russia could still lead to human extinction.

In particular, the danger of instant nuclear annihilation remains because of those missiles on hair-trigger alert, especially with tension between the U.S. and Russia over Ukraine and other matters, and both sides talking about nuclear options.

George W. Bush and Barack Obama are among the many leaders who have advocated an end to hair-trigger status. President Obama has the authority to take at least the 450 land-based ICBMs off hair-trigger. If Russian President Putin is serious about recent conciliatory statements, he could match that action. The 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima bomb would be a powerful moment to do so.

Also of interest: The Washington Post has an article about the effects of a Hiroshima-sized atomic bomb on American cities, including links to Internet sites that provide impact maps for other cities.  Also several other of my essays on the subject, including on the 60th and 65th anniversaries of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Also: This NY Times story on how a new generation is being enlisted in remembering the oral history of Hiroshima from the last survivors.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Nuclear Treaties

President Obama went to American University today to lay out the common sense case for the international treaty with Iran that prevents that country from developing a nuclear weapon. He rightly points out that the people who are reflexively opposing the treaty are basically the same people who promoted the catastrophic Iraq war, for the same bogus reasons. Here's the transcript.

He also invoked President Kennedy's historic address at this same university that proposed the nuclear test ban treaty.  In the heat of the Cold War, Kennedy broke through the hypnotic cliches of the time with the heretical view that the nuclear arms race was insane, and it should be slowed and stopped.  The limited test ban was negotiated and passed within months.  Here is my 2003 evocation of that speech, published in the San Francisco Chronicle on its unheralded 40th anniversary.  It was equally unheralded on its 50th, yet it is one of the most important speeches in the history of the world.

This week also marks the 70th anniversary of the first atomic bomb to be dropped on human beings, at Hiroshima.   Also over at Kowincidence, I've just posted a 2006 piece that appeared at Daily Kos and a number of community blogs at the time, about the slipping awareness of the nuclear realities.  This also involves Iran, because at the time the Bush administration was making noises about attacking suspected underground sites in Iran with nuclear "bunker-buster" bombs.

Later I'll be posting two new essays here marking the 70th anniversary.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Climate Now

Update: From the Guardian: "Hundreds of businesses including eBay, Nestle and General Mills have issued their support for Barack Obama’s clean power plan, billed as the strongest action ever on climate change by a US president."
The White House issued the President's official statement and a checklist of provisions.

With the updated and strengthened carbon pollution rules for power plants that are to be officially announced today, President Obama is reportedly beginning a series of events and actions focused on the climate crisis.  It won't be the first time he's done so, but this is likely to be part of a shared focus on the climate crisis that will build to December, when nations gather to work out a common response.

Messages of urgency and seriousness of the challenge have alreadt been coming more frequently over the past few months,  Pope Francis issued a papal encyclical that among other topics and recommendations, called for strong action to address the climate crisis, as a moral imperative.  Leaders of other denominations added their voices.  Regional leaders pressured climate negotiators to get something done.

Organizations big and small issued notably forthright statements based on studies.  The London School of Economics concluded that the benefits of addressing the climate crisis now far outweigh the costs. The EPA issued a report detailing how the climate crisis is the preeminent issue of our time.  A coalition of scientific groups in the UK called upon that government to act on the climate crisis as a priority. Yet another Pentagon report detailed security threats likely to ensue as the climate crisis continues. A UK report on security said that the climate crisis is as great a threat as nuclear war.

But perhaps the greatest change is that the climate crisis is emerging as a decisive political issue, and the denialists are increasingly on the wrong side of history as well as of science and morality.  In much of the world, a Pew poll found, the climate crisis is seen as the most important threat.  But it is in the United States where the issue is gaining political importance.

Right now, the Democratic party candidates for President are vying with one another to be the strongest on the climate crisis.  Hillary Clinton made a major speech with large-scale specific proposals.  Martin O'Malley has made the climate crisis one of his chief issues, and Senator Berne Sanders said that the climate crisis is the greatest threat facing Earth.

Their stance is supported by recent polls on topics of concern, including this one (cited in the Clinton story linked above):

A January poll conducted by The New York Times, Stanford University and Resources for the Future found that two-thirds of Americans said they were more likely to vote for political candidates who campaign on fighting climate change.

“This issue now polls better than any other issue for Democrats,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former top climate change official in the Clinton administration.

Meanwhile, Republicans running for their presidential nomination compete with each other to please their fossil fuel billionaire backers.  The most "progressive" of their candidates will say the climate crisis is exaggerated, while others call it a hoax, and Senator Tail Gunner Ted accuses the world's climate scientists of being liars.

The difference between the parties on the climate crisis is complete.  Afraid that reality will continue to intrude on their political money-maker of denial,
 Congressional Republicans cut funds for NASA research on the entire planet Earth.  This money funds weather forecasting, among other unneeded activities.
The bill may yet face a veto.

It is fruitless to despair that Republicans won't face the reality of the climate crisis.  As Kim Stanley Robinson says, in a democracy it isn't necessary to obtain consensus.  We need 51% of voters to elect a House Democratic majority and a 60 seat Senate majority along with a Democratic President.  It's not easy, but it's pretty simple.  Give the planet a chance.  Vote Democrat.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Roosevelt & Hopkins: An Artist of Government

This set of excerpts from Roosevelt & Hopkins is for Mike--happy birthday!

These excerpts bear upon questions of presidential leadership.  The creative aspect of FDR's presidency is emphasized.  Unlike the norm today, FDR actually thought up important policies, together with how to couch them to appeal to political allies while disarming opponents, and especially how and when to present them for public approval.

Sometimes they didn't work, like the so-called packing of the Supreme Court.  But sometimes they were acts of genius that did work, like Lend- Lease, that allowed the US to help the UK and other allies fight off Hitler, even before America entered the war.

Here's author Robert Sherwood in the early pages of Roosevelt & Hopkins (with different paragraph breaks):

While preparing this book I interviewed Harold Smith, who was Director of the Budget from 1939 to 1946. Smith was a modest, methodical, precise man, temperamentally far removed from Roosevelt and Hopkins. But I know of no one whose judgment and integrity and downright common sense the President trusted more completely. 

In the course of a long conversation, Smith said to me, ‘ A few months ago, on the first anniversary of Roosevelt’s death, a magazine asked me to write an article on Roosevelt as an administrator. I thought it over and decided I was not ready to make such an appraisal. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. 

 When I worked with Roosevelt—for six years—I thought as did many others that he was a very erratic administrator. But now, when I look back, I can really begin to see the size of his programs. They were by far the largest and most complex programs that any President ever put through. 

 People like me who had the responsibility of watching the pennies could only see the fix or six or seven per cent of the programs that went wrong, through inefficient organization or direction. But now I can see in perspective, the ninety-three or –four or –five per cent that went right—including the winning of the biggest war in history—because of unbelievably skillful organization and direction.

 And if I were to write that article now, I think I’d say that Roosevelt must have been on of the greatest geniuses as an administrator that ever lived. What we couldn’t appreciate at the time was the fact that he was a real artist in government.’

That word ‘artist’ was happily chosen, for it suggests the quality of Roosevelt’s extraordinary creative imagination. I think that he would have resented the application of the word as implying that he was an impractical dreamer; he loved to represent himself as a prestidigitator who could amaze and amuse the audience by ‘pulling another rabbit out of a hat.’ But he was an artist and no canvas was too big for him.

He was also, of course, a master politician, and most artists are certainly not that; but, by the same token, you rarely find a professional politician who would make the mistake of being caught in the act of creating an original idea. The combination of the two qualities in Roosevelt can be demonstrated by the fact that it required a soaring imaginator to conceive Lend Lease and it required the shrewdest kind of manipulation to get it passed by the Congress.

It was often said by businessmen during the Roosevelt Administration that “What we need in the White House is a good businessman.” But in the years of the Second World War there were a great many patriotic, public-spirited businessmen who went to Washington to render important service to their country and they learned that government is a weird world bearing little resemblance to anything they had previously known...

The more analytical of these businessmen came to the conclusion that it was no accident that not one of the great or even above-average Presidents in American history had been trained in business.”

Saturday, August 01, 2015

The Fires of August

               photo of northern CA fire published on Lost Coast Outpost

It's just hours into August and the annual California state of emergency has already been declared due to fires.

From the AP:

Blazes raging in forests and woodlands across California have taken the life of a firefighter and forced hundreds of people to flee their homes as an army of firefighters continue to battle them from the air and the ground.

Twenty-three large fires, many sparked by lightning strikes, were burning across Northern California on Saturday, said state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant. Some 8,000 firefighters were attempting to subdue them, something made incredibly difficult by several years of drought that have dried out California.

"The conditions and fire behavior we're seeing at 10 in the morning is typically what we'd see in late afternoon in late August and September," said Nick Schuler, a division chief with the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. "But because of the dry conditions, because of the drought-stricken vegetation accompanied by the steep terrain and winds, we're seeing fire activity that's abnormal for this time of year."

USA Today reports:

Freakishly hot, dry weather in the Pacific Northwest is killing millions of fish in the overheated waters of the region's rivers and streams. 

Sockeye salmon losses in the Columbia River due to the heat are in the hundreds of thousands, said Jeff Fryer, senior fishery scientist with the river's Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. The fish were returning from the ocean to spawn when the "unprecedented" warm water killed them, he said.

Water temperatures in the Columbia River — part of which runs along the border of Oregon and Washington — reached the low 70s shortly after July 4, something that doesn't usually happen until August, if at all, Fryer said.

Locally as well, the salmon counts are down, the temps are up, and the fires are spreading.  There's a highway closed to our north, and power outages and fluctuations.  Some folks in Eureka and elsewhere in Humboldt County report ashes falling from the sky, as more lightning strike fires are reported.  Our clouded skies in Arcata Friday night had an eerie yellow tinge.

With all the anticipation of an El Nino winter, the current reality is the drought.  Some isolated localities and of course poor people in general are suffering more, but we are all, for example, paying much higher prices for produce, and conserving water.  The good news is that as a whole California is meeting and exceeding water conservation targets.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The New Normal?

Eureka broke its all-time temp record Tuesday, not only for the date, but for the month of July.  I'm sure Arcata did as well, because it was hotter here.  Wednesday will likely be and feel hotter, since we had a saving strong breeze Tuesday, expected to be gone Wednesday.  For us to be in the 80s for more than a fluke day or two is unheard of.  Just a few miles inland they're hitting high 90s and into the 100s.  San Francisco is expecting a high of 90 Wednesday. Doesn't look too cool elsewhere in the country either, with Chicago and New York set for heat waves as well, but unusual cyclonic activity brought a huge tornado that spun on the ground in Calgary for three hours, snow in Idaho, thunderstorms in Wyoming, heavy rain and flooding in Des Moines, Iowa. All on Tuesday. Well, I suppose this is going to stop being news.  But it's happening.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

More Whether

Whether El Nino is stronger than dirt or not, all of California may not see lots of rain after all.

It's that warm water off the coast, which anecdotally is warmer than last year.  It's not part of the warm spot in the Pacific that denotes El Nino, and apparently it could even be its enemy.

According to this WAPost piece, it's known as The Blob, and is responsible for blocking moisture coming ashore:

 That pool of incredibly warm ocean water was a major player in the weather over western North America this past winter. A strong ridge of high pressure was parked over the region, keeping things warm and dry from California to Alaska. It was a tangled feedback process between hot, dry soil, the strong ridge, and the blob — all working together to enhance the ridge itself, leading to more hot, dry weather. The wintertime pattern has been so domineering that West Coast meteorologists dubbed it the “ridiculously resilient ridge.”

This was particularly evident hereabouts, especially when there was rain all around us and none falling here.  Still, we had a wet December, which saved us after the almost totally dry previous winter.  The Blob was not present for the last super El Nino that did in fact bring a lot of rain here, in 1996-7.  It may not be enough to keep all the rain away this winter...fingers crossed.  But it illustrates the problems of the climate crisis--while some new factors may combine and others offset, there are new synergies with two and three new factors involved.  The chances of these combining for good outcomes becomes smaller and smaller.

Meanwhile, warm river waters in Oregon are killing half the sockeye salmon migrating on the Columbia.  I suspect this is just the first such story.  Warmer ocean water doesn't help either.  Climate changed hotter air plus the drought and the lack of cooling snowmelt in the rivers are preventing salmon from spawning.  Salmon fishers here on the North Coast were already pessimistic.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Whether Report

El Nino Update 2 (7/24): A Washington Post article is more positive on this being declared a strong one, officially perhaps by the end of July, and on track to be one of the strongest ever recorded-- though of course they haven't been recorded for all that long, but since 1996-7 was our first winter here, we know what it could mean on the North Coast: lots of rain, with some very heavy rains and flooding.  With less hillside logging but more drought-depleted soil, there still could be major mudslides this winter, as there will likely be in southern CA.

It's like summer here.  Hot sun, a bit sticky and close inside, the doors swelling in the humidity.  A Sunday lethargy reminding me of summer afternoons in Pennsylvania, with temps a good deal higher than here.

We had some light rain and foggy days in June and July, in our coastal microclimate.  Within sight on certain days were somber clouds dumping torrents of rain on Blue Lake, a few miles inland.  Further inland the temps get quite high.

In southern California over the weekend, remnants of Pacific hurricane Delores doused LA and environs.  The San Diego Padres had the second rainout in their ballpark's history. Beaches were closed!  And out in the California desert, the rain crumbled supports under a major highway, closing "the 10" all the way to Arizona.

Surfers in the Bay Area and up here on the North Coast report warmer ocean water, a bit of anecdotal support for the talk of a strong El Nino.  Water temps are tracking to continue rising to a peak by winter, and so the feeling here is getting pervasive that we're in for a wet winter, and quite possibly a stormy one.

Meanwhile, the annual International NOAA report just issued shows that 2014 broke records to score the highest yearly surface temperatures, highest ocean surface temperatures, and highest upper level ocean heat content.

Also the highest atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide--the greenhouse gases.  Whether or not the world gets control of this in the next few years with hopes to save the far future, the weather is going to keep being strongly affected by the greenhouse effect for decades.  That's what this report really says: we're starting to feel it, and more is coming.

Update on El Nino: The LA Times published a kind of primer that's probably a bit more conservative and sensible at this stage about El Nino this year.  Namely that while it is building, it isn't big enough yet to say for certain that a rainy winter will extend up this far north, or more to the point for the state as a whole,  even into the Sierras where the snowpack is crucial.  It notes that there are differences with this El Nino, including the warmer coastal water I mentioned, that make this less predictable.  But that's climate change.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Avarice Rewarded

Sixteen--count 'em!--sixteen candidates for the GOP presidential nomination, or there will be by Tuesday.

Why so many?  The way I explain it is--well, why listen to me?  Gabriel Sherman says what I mean succinctly, and besides, he's more important and New York Magazine publishes him.  Basically:

"What this year's primary shows is that — at least when it comes to presidential elections — the GOP is at risk of becoming less of a political party and more like a talent agency for the conservative media industry. Jumping into the race provides a (pseudo)candidate with a national platform to profit from becoming a political celebrity. "If you don’t run, you’re an idiot," a top GOP consultant told me.

And the money is nothing to sniff at:

Since January 2014, Ben Carson has earned as much as $27 million from delivering 141 speeches and publishing three books including You Have a Brain: A Teen’s Guide to T.H.I.N.K B.I.G. Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina made nearly $1 million in speeches last year and published a memoir. Mike Huckabee’s Fox News contract was worth $350,000 a year before he left to join the race, according to sources. This year he also released a book God, Guns, Grits and Gravy. Ted Cruz made a reported $1.5 million for his book A Time for Truth.

Just becoming a candidate can double your lecture fee, and these days that can be big money.  That is, like a lot of things, it's either very big money or no money at all.

So why aren't a dozen Dems cavorting for their piece of the action?  While it's true that the Clintons command big lecture fee bucks, there are fewer lucrative sources, among other factors that Sherman neatly summarizes:

The disparity between the size of the two primary fields is driven by political and structural forces. The rise of billionaire donors and Super PACs enable more fringe GOP candidates to fund their campaigns. Conservatives’ palpable sense of cultural victimhood encourage them to embrace (and reward) their former candidates even if they lose badly. “The people on the right are heroes to their supporters and that’s how their books sell,” Shrum says. And, conservatives who promote free-market gospel on the lecture circuit, can get easily booked by deep-pocketed corporations who benefit from their message. "A bank is never going to hire Bernie Sanders to speak, but it might hire Rick Perry," says one GOP adviser.

Seldom do I agree with an analysis so completely as when it confirms precisely my own observations.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Towards A More Hopeful World

Update: Amy Davidson's account of President Obama's press conference on the Iran nuclear weapons deal.  "What's your alternative?"

The Washington Post:

"The United States and other world powers reached a historic agreement with Iran here Tuesday, aimed at preventing the Islamic republic from building a nuclear weapon in return for the lifting of sanctions that have isolated the country and hobbled its economy."

“This deal demonstrates that American diplomacy can bring about real and meaningful change,” Obama told a nation that awoke Tuesday morning to news of the accord. He said it would ensure that Iran had no possibility to achieve rapid nuclear weapons “breakout” for at least the next decade.

“Every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off,” Obama said.

In Vienna news briefings and Washington conference calls, senior administration officials joined the president in hailing the agreement — which limits Iran’s nuclear capability and imposes strict international monitoring in exchange for lifting international economic sanctions — as a way to make America and the world more secure."

The Post story includes a one-minute video explaining the terms of the deal.  The deal is amazingly good.  It takes away the most prominently known flashpoint that could lead to war, and opens possibilities for different relations over the next couple of decades, enough time for the younger generation in Iran--notably uninterested in confrontations with the West--to graduate into power there.

On the deal itself, the New York Times quoted:This explains why it took so long,” Daryl G. Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, a private group in Washington, said of the negotiation. “I rate this as one of the most complex agreements — if not the most complex — ever to deal with nuclear issues. It’s much stronger that we expected.”

Reuters: Iran and six major world powers reached a nuclear deal on Tuesday, capping more than a decade of negotiations with an agreement that could transform the Middle East. U.S. President Barack Obama hailed a step towards a "more hopeful world" and Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said it proved that "constructive engagement works". But Israel pledged to do what it could to halt what it called an "historic surrender".

The agreement will now be debated in the U.S. Congress, but Obama said he would veto any measure to block it.

"This deal offers an opportunity to move in a new direction," Obama said. "We should seize it."

Tactically, Republicans know they can't block this agreement in Congress because they don't have the votes to override a veto.  So in the unlikely event that they wanted to present a cautious, measured, nuanced response, ha ha, they don't have to.  They'll be as extreme as they believe their 2016 primary voters are.

But that's not to say they aren't genuinely upset.  Borowitz in the New Yorker has the true story on that:

"By easing tensions with Cuba and now Iran, President Obama is “recklessly squandering America’s precious supply of enemies,” the leader of a conservative think tank said on Tuesday."

"Regardless of his future actions, Obama’s detente with Cuba and Iran will likely tarnish his legacy forever, Dorrinson said. “On this President’s watch, America lost two of its most enduring foes,” he said. “He’s going to have to live with that for the rest of his life.”

Throne of Cards

As we sampled one of the latest hits in the ongoing so-called Golden Age of Television, I finally realized what these shows have in common: a very old form, born in radio but a staple of television for decades.

The soap opera.

That's basically what Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Mad Men, even Dowton Abbey, and the one we most regrettably watched, The Blacklist, all are: soap operas, with large casts of extreme characters to which seemingly random but extreme things are done in the course of many episodes.  With no reason other than to shock, and create new storylines.

 Mad Men and Dowton Abbey most obviously fall into the category, since their sturm und drang is basically domestic and workplace related, like the daytime soaps.  The others however (and all their close relatives) may be less obvious, because they center on specific worlds, like Washington politics or police, FBI, CIA etc.  And they are incredibly violent.

 They may have elements of thrillers, and resemble latter day Grand Guignol but like soap operas they emphasize sensationalistic grabbers to keep you watching for the next episode, dangling questions and subjecting characters to the most extreme fates, repeatedly. (This sounds like melodrama, but technically melodrama pits good against evil.  These shows don't.  Everybody is more or less evil.)

 Almost by definition, soap operas have no actual center or spine or reason for being, no actual story to tell.  They exist to keep on going, keep people watching and talking, whatever it takes.  Plausibility, let alone integrity, just don't figure in.

The Blacklist stars James Spader, who I've been watching since Sex, Lies and Videotape, and loved in Boston Legal.  But this series is nothing less than a sadomasochistic soap opera, with no discernible purpose other than to light up Twitter with its latest twisted twist.

After seeing the pilot and first four episodes and vowing never to see another, I nevertheless read the plot descriptions on Wikipedia of every episode so far (two years worth; it's been renewed for a third season.) It all becomes quite clear. Spader's character murders somebody in just about every episode.  The female lead (an FBI agent; there's also a badass female CIA agent) is tortured, and tortures people, including her husband, though they later get back together. (?--but why bother...)  One of the key characters is diagnosed with a terminal illness, and then he isn't. A new villain is introduced for each story, each more inventively and horrifically evil than the last. No one is who they say they are, everyone betrays everyone, there is no moral center to any of it.

I'm aware that my response may to some degree be related to age as well as taste.  I also resent all the articles offered on the Internet that are headlined "Shows We Love" or "why we like" etc.--assuming a hive mind "we" on almost any subject.  That the kind of action that appears on these shows every week just doesn't happen in the real world (the multiple times that heavily armed men waylay FBI convoys, kill lots of people and make off with somebody in custody--how many times has that happened in America?  How about never? Is never good for you?) --this is part of the postmodern pleasure for some I suppose.  It just pisses me off.

But I do think it is worse than that.  Though it may express a pervasive anxiety in viewers, it also creates that anxiety big time, which bleeds into anxiety about the real world.  Everyone on the street becomes a potential psycho-killer terrorist or sadistic, super-intelligent serial killer.  All done with the purpose of manipulating viewers, which is apparently what passes for innocence in Hollywood.

  Though the intention may be just ordinary cynical manipulation for ratings, the worldview that gets expressed is fascistic.  Various excesses by "law enforcement" on various levels is a staple of every such show, to varying degrees, which makes real world police excesses less of a mystery.

 But shows like The Blacklist (the name itself defiles the name of an historically significant and actually fascistic phenomenon and time in America) promote torture, first by showing it as a regular investigative tool, and by suggesting that it works in extracting good information, which of course is its justification.  That's not debated, it's part of these shows. (That this show is a child of 24 is obvious even if you don't know that the producers' first choice for the lead was Keifer Sutherland.)

This portrait of torture is wrong factually, not to mention morally. How many times did it work in the war on terror?  Check the studies and it's never.  Is never good for you?  It seems the Bush administration really isn't over.  It's alive and well in the Golden Age of Television.

That honorific was previously given to TV's earliest days--the Golden Age was live TV in New York, dramas by real dramatists, comedy by geniuses like Sid Caesar, Ernie Kovacs, Jackie Gleason, Steve Allen.

Though I fondly recall the latter part of that period from my childhood, and know how formative some of the 1950s shows were for me, it's not the period of my viewing I'd call the Golden Age.  That would be the late 80s, early 1990s, with Northern Exposure, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Twin Peaks, Moonlighting, Thirtysomething, even Miami Vice.

While some of the more recent, much praised shows that I nevertheless choose not to watch may be very good in some respects, I also suspect that there is a vicious cycle now involving social media, the media that now reports on social media as a main focus, and the shows themselves.  The ability to instantly text your did you see that? and the amped-up social pressure to watch the shows so you've got something to say on Facebook as well as at work the next day, give these shows maybe more buoyancy than they might otherwise have.  

All that self-involvement may be creating a bubble, that will eventually burst.  As a form, ultraviolent soap operas don't interest me.  They are a huge waste of time and emotion.  And some are worse than that.